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Is There Science Behind Your Supplement?

By   /  August 1, 2016  /  1 Comment

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Does coffee cure heat disease? How about coconut oil for ending obesity? And green tea – is that really a cancer preventative? Last, but not least, are my Facebook friends a good source for information about what I should and should not be eating? David McCandless may have some answers.

McCandless, from Information is Beautiful, created a graph that ranks hundreds of health supplements based on the amount of scientific research backing claims about them. The information he used is based on data from human trials that used a random placebo-control method. Supplements with the strongest evidence backing them are at the top. The lower a supplement is on the graph, the less and less conclusive the evidence is that it does what it’s claimed to do.

The graph also lets you compare popular interest versus scientific interest with some buttons you can toggle back and forth between. For example, below I’ve toggled the button for popular interest, so the larger the circle, the more often it people searched for it on Google, indicating how big the buzz around that supplement is in popular media. (This is just a screen shot to help you see how it works. To really see what’s happening, you’ll need to go to the web page with the interactive graph.)

Popular interest bubbles

In comparison, the screenshot below shows what supplements scientists are looking at. Again, the larger the bubble, the more research has been done on that supplement.

Science Interest bubbles

What I see comparing the two is “There’s not a lot of research done on coffee and its impact on heart disease, but people are interested in it and Hey! There seems to be strong evidence that it helps.” Even better, I can hover my mouse over any supplement and then click on it to see what the evidence says and even get access to the most important study.

Coffee evidence

Using the graph I learned that cinnamon is no more effective than a placebo when it comes to managing symptoms of diabetes, that coconut oil may reduce the size of my waistline because the body can’t absorb that fat as easily, and that there’s no evidence that green tea prevents cancer, though drinking three to five cups a day may have other health benefits. Oh – and that fish oil for lowering my cholesterol that I always felt guilty for not taking? I don’t have to feel guilty about that anymore. New studies show it doesn’t really lower my risk of heart disease. On the other hand, it’s above the “worth-it-line” suggesting that I should take it to prevent colorectal cancer. Back to feeling guilty!

I’m going to keep this handy graph bookmarked on my computer so that anytime a Facebook friends says, “I hear this cures blah, blah, blah,” I can see if there’s any science backing that so I know if a trip to Walgreen’s is in my future or not. I hope it does the same for you!

P.S. I didn’t know what a metastudy was, so in case you don’t either, here’s the definition:

metastudy definition

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  • Published: 4 months ago on August 1, 2016
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  • Last Modified: August 2, 2016 @ 10:07 am
  • Filed Under: Consider This

About the author

editor and contributor

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

1 Comment

  1. Harold Schrock says:

    Kathy, you should go find the studies linking cholesterol levels with heart disease since you mentioned that as an example. You might be surprised to find that although there is a ton of hype about this conventional wisdom there is very little solid research linking the two. Some of the original studies that established this paradigm were later discredited.

    Actually there is a correlation between the lower cholesterol and lower heart disease. But, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between lower cholesterol levels and reduced chance of death overall. If your cholesterol levels are extremely low you’re more apt to die from something else before heart disease has a chance to attack.

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